BEIJING: After wrestling for years with Beijing's appalling traffic and pollution problems, city planners have come up with an old-fashioned solution: bicycles.

Municipal officials want to boost the number of cyclists by 25 per cent during the next five-year plan, state media reported.

Twenty years ago, four out of five residents in the Chinese capital pedalled to work through one of the world's best systems of bicycle lanes. But the modern passion for cars has made two-wheeled transport so treacherous, dirty and unfashionable that barely a fifth of the population dares to use lanes that are now routinely blocked by parked cars and invaded by vehicles trying to escape from jams on the main roads.

Last year, China overtook the US as the world's biggest car market: about a million new vehicles a month pour on to the roads.

The capital is among the worst-affected cities. Since the 2008 Olympics, car owners have been ordered not to drive on certain days each week, but these controls have failed to ease congestion, so the authorities are considering additional measures.

The Xinhua news agency said the Government hoped to improve the infrastructure for cyclists, including restored bicycle lanes and new rental programs providing 50,000 bikes for hire by 2015.

The authorities plan more bike parks near bus and train stations so that half the city's residents will travel to work by public transport in five years.

Residents welcomed any improvement on the current system, which is so bad that some businessmen keep a fold-up bike in the boot of their chauffeur-driven cars so they can escape bad snarl-ups.

However, there was scepticism about the likelihood of a return of Beijing's bicycle culture.

''Fewer and fewer of my friends ride bicycles, but the interesting thing is they don't drive cars either,'' said Jiamin Zhao, an internet entrepreneur who still cycles his child to school each morning.

Others questioned Beijing's willingness to give priority to cheap bicycles over expensive cars given the city's emphasis on economic development and its lax car ownership regulations.

Chen Ying, a teacher who owns two cars, said: ''If they really want me to use a bicycle, they should build clean and safe bicycle lanes. At the moment,the roads are dangerous and too smelly.''

Guardian News & Media